2014 Season Preview: Help From Within

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It's Dellin's time to shine. (Presswire)
It’s Dellin’s time to shine. (Presswire)

Last year, the Yankees got close to zero help from their farm system. The only player to come up from the minors and establish himself as a big leaguer was Adam Warren, who spent the year as the swingman. Guys like David Adams, Preston Claiborne, and Zoilo Almonte got off to hot starts, but they all tailed off once they were pressed into regular playing time. Austin Romine also failed to impress as the backup catcher. The system offered close to no help as the injuries mounted and the poor stretches turned into poor seasons.

The Yankees were not oblivious to this — Hal Steinbrenner called a staff meeting and essentially had the scouting and player development staff audited to figure out why there were no internal solution. No major personnel changes were made, but some procedural changes were implemented and the minor league complex in Tampa was renovated. Turning around the system probably won’t happen overnight, but the team did take some steps in the right direction these last few months.

At some point this season, the Yankees will have to dip into their farm system for help. It’s inevitable. Injuries will strike and fringe players will play their way off the roster. When that happens, the first attempt at fixing the problem will come from within. The Yankees have shown they will be patient and not jump right into the trade market when they need help these last few years and I have no reason to think that will change in 2014. Here are the prospects who could come up and help the MLB team this summer.

Catcher: John Ryan Murphy
Murphy, 22, got his first taste of the big leagues late last year, but that was nothing more than a September cup of coffee following a breakout season in Double-A and Triple-A. He hit .269/.347/.426 with 29 doubles and 12 homers between the two levels and has improved so much defensively that he is now viewed as a no doubt catcher long-term. Had the Yankees not signed Brian McCann, the temptation to start Murphy in 2014 would have been be great. Instead, he figures to bide his time in Triple-A and await an injury after jumping Romine on the depth chart. Of course, he might be nothing more than trade bait. Sleeper: Eh, there really isn’t a sleeper behind the plate for 2014.

Anna. (Getty)
Anna. (Getty)

Infield: Dean Anna
Similar to Murphy, Anna figures to be the first called up whenever injury strikes the infield. The Yankees acquired the 27-year-old from the Padres in a minor offseason deal and he can do a little of everything except hit for power. He can get on base and play both second and short, where the offensive bar is pretty low. I’d say the chances of Anna coming up and being an impact player  this summer are remote, but he does enough to potentially help the team both at the plate and in the field if pressed into duty. Sleeper: Jose Pirela, who’s hit .264/.334/.401 and played four positions (second, short, third, left) at Double-A the last three years.

Outfield: Zoilo Almonte
Technically, Almonte had his chance to help the MLB team last year. He came up in mid-June and had five pretty great games to start his career, but it went downhill fast and he finished the year with a .236/.274/.302 batting line in 113 big league plate appearances around an ankle injury. Almonte, 24, offers sound corner outfield defense and a switch-hitting bat, and there’s a case to be made that he’s a better fit for the bench than Ichiro Suzuki right now. Instead of making the Opening Day roster, Zoilo will have to settle for a trip to Triple-A, where he will be the first called up whenever an extra outfield body is needed. He’s the clear first in line. Sleeper: Ronnie Mustelier, who didn’t get a shot last year but could hit his way into the conversation again.

Right-handers: Dellin Betances, Mark Montgomery, Jose Ramirez
Of everyone in this post, the 25-year-old Betances probably has the best chance to crack the Opening Day roster. He finally found something resembling sustained success in the bullpen last year, pitching to a 2.06 ERA with a 93/28 K/BB in 65.2 innings after shifting into a relief role. It feels like a foregone conclusion that Betances will get a chance to not only stick in the big leagues this year, but also assume a high-profile, late-inning role. The time is now for Dellin.

Had Montgomery not gotten hurt last year, he probably would have been called up instead of Claiborne. Instead, the 23-year-old struggled to throw strikes while missing time with shoulder problems. Montgomery will likely have to show he’s back to being the guy he was from 2011-12 before getting a chance to help the MLB team with his wipeout slider. Ramirez, 24, has had trouble staying healthy over the years and sure enough, he’s already been sidelined with an oblique problem in camp. When right, his fastball-changeup combination is electric and could have a huge impact out of the bullpen, assuming the Yankees are ready to give up on him as a starter given his career-long lack of durability. Sleeper: Danny Burawa, assuming he can figure out how consistently throw strikes.

Cabral. (Getty)
Cabral. (Getty)

Left-handers: Cesar Cabral, Vidal Nuno
I wouldn’t be a complete shock if either Cabral or Nuno made the Opening Day roster, but, more likely, they figure to serve as up and down arms this season. The 25-year-old Cabral is a pure lefty specialist with a low-90s fastball and a sweepy slider, and his late-season cameo was impressive (nine lefties faced, six strikeouts). Nuno, 26, has a deep enough repertoire to start and we saw him do that last summer before his groin injury. In a perfect world, he’d turn into a left-handed 2009 Al Aceves, a rubber-armed swingman who could come in for one batter or four innings without much of a problem. Sleeper: Fred Lewis, who lacks sexy numbers but has the fastball-slider combination to help as a specialist.

* * *

The Yankees do not have a Xander Bogaerts or a Gregory Polanco in their farm system, that super high upside MLB ready prospect with a clear path to big league playing time in 2014. Any help they get from within this summer figures to come in small doses, from bench players or relievers. Sure, Murphy could take over as the starter if McCann gets hurt or Nuno could grab the fifth starter’s spot and run with it, but that would be a surprise. The system is not a position to provide an immediate impact right now unless it involves trading prospects for a big leaguer.

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Carmen Berra, Yogi's wife, passes away at 85
  • http://www.twitter.com/mattpat11 Matt DiBari

    I still say that that the Yankees problem last year wasn’t (directly)the injuries. It was that we had no one in the system capable of filling in without completely humiliating themselves. If we had people capable of holding down the fort a bit, things may have been different.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      And I’d say that, while the starters at some positions aren’t necessarily better in 2014, the depth may be.

    • Havok9120

      Not last year. Our two biggest power sources in our starting LF and 1B, our starting 3B (still a pretty darn good offensive player), our starting SS (another big contributor in theory), and that’s just in Spring Training. All the set backs, new injuries, and then the breakdown of much of the supporting cast….

      We lost too much. Having guys who could step in to all those positions for as long as we would have needed without embarrassing themselves seems unrealistic.

      • I’m One

        Having guys who could step in to all those positions for as long as we would have needed without embarrassing themselves seems unrealistic.

        And yet, despite all of thos extended injuries and terrible pitching performances from the expected team ace and #5 starter, they still managed to stay in playoff contention for almost the entire season. As much as we complain about last season, they could have been out of it by June and it would have been understandable.


        • Ryan D

          I hate this argument, that staying in playoff contention is itself an indicator of things not being as bad as you’d expect. The only reason the Yankees even had a remote chance of the post season was because of the new wild card set up. Had the old playoff rules still been around, last year the Yankees would have been long out of contention.

          • jsbrendog

            doesn’t change the fact that they were in playoff contention within the, you know, way the game is played NOW and not hwo it was played previously. Man, in 1997 they only made the playoffs cause of the new wildcard rule and wouldnt have under the old rules so who cares they made it all the way to the WS? your argument is the flawed one.

            The team, despit losing anyone of any value was still a possible playoff team. If one player played better (cc, 5th starter, ichiro, etc) or if one player didnt get hurt (jeter, teix, cervelli, grandy) it is possible this team makes the playoffs.

            How is that not a good thing? A team that on paper was an AAAA lineup staying in the race til the end doesn’t give you optimism for the next year when they actually have an MLB caliber healthy roster? what in the world?!

          • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

            The difference between the two WC spots last year was 0.5 games (Rays and Rangers had to play a Game 163).

          • Mr. Roth

            “Had the old playoff rules still been around, last year the Yankees would have been long out of contention.”

            This is based on the fact that 1 + 1 = -2

          • Jorge Steinbrenner

            Had outfield outs still been recorded on balls caught on one hop, I’d imagine 2013 would have looked quite differently as well.

            They remained in contention until December. If you want a guaranteed result, I’m sure there’s a torrent with the entire 1998 season somewhere which you can watch in succession.

            • Jorge Steinbrenner

              September, not December.

              No New York team was in contention for anything in December.


  • Mike HC

    Definitely seems like the Yanks have the best chance of good internal performances coming from the bullpen. And considering the lack of moves made there this off season, maybe Cashman is counting on it.

  • Eddardo Nuney

    They are a far cry away from another Core 4, which led the ballcub to 5 rings over 15 years. As the last member of the Core 4 retires this season there is not even one core player in the farm system to carry the torch. Their most highly touted prospect was traded away to Seattle where he is now 350 pounds and can’t play any position, even DH. Zolio should be at the majors for Ichiro.

  • Kiko Jones

    If I’m not mistaken, John Ryan Murphy is now the answer to a trivia question: “Who was Mariano Rivera’s last battery mate?”

    • dkidd

      every time i watch the clip of mo leaving the mound, i laugh at murphy’s deer-in-the-headlights expression

      • dkidd

        laugh (through the tears)

  • Jorge Steinbrenner

    Yes, that was a Ronnie Mustelier mention.

  • I’m One

    My guess at the best chance for a significant contribution from this bunch is Betances. Looking forward to seeing him this season.

  • King of Fruitless Hypotheticals

    If Nuno get some experience this year, and competes for the 5th slot next year, that has to be a win, no?

    If two of the RH relievers make their way to the pen this year or next and stick for a few years, that’s a huge win even though it isn’t a large cost savings.

    Thornton got paid a lot to be a LOOGY, if we can get Cabral for 2-3 years of that I say take it and love it!

    It seems we have LOTS of AAAA players on the team…if just two make the leap this year and 2 next, it seems like that will be a great injection into the NY team.

    Feels like the weakness is the farm isn’t producing a superstar, nor is it producing where the MLB team’s weakness is: SS or 2B.

  • W.B. Mason Williams

    Really hoping Dean Anna (after the inevitable BR injury) comes up and hits .280/.355/.400. Not spectacular but well above average for a keystone. As much as I love power, Anna could provide value by just getting on base and hitting in the bottom 3.

  • The Straw that Stirs

    What a joke of farm when you’re cheering for a random reliever with 8 years in the system.

    So sad. The Yankees of the 80s signed players but developed few. The Yankees of the 90s signed few but developed many. The Yankees of the 00s signed many and developed few.

    Now the Yankees of the 10s sign few and develop none.

    The circle jerk here will hate this, but I don’t see how this Yankees team is better than even the Orioles. The latter won 85 games last year legitimately and signed two players who could easily be worth 6 WAR combined. Add in Schoop at 2B and that’s a 92-93 win team.

    • Mr. Roth

      Don’t you have some brain science to go research?

    • Tanakapalooza Floozy

      This Yanks team has 85-88 wins written all over it.

    • heyjoeyjojo

      Teams develop like the dynasty 90’s Yanks very rarely. Even the Rays, who had high picks over and over haven’t created a core like that. (I know they traded some away)

      We had a group of guys, Jeter, Mo, Andy, Jorge, Bernie, etc, that all came together at the right time. Trying to replicate that is an awesome idea but not probable. I’m pretty sure DJ was the only one of the bunch that was expected at draft to be an impact player.

    • Need Pitching & Hitting

      and signed two players who could easily be worth 6 WAR combined.

      That’s … ummmmm …. optimistic.

      • jjyank

        I’m sure he arrived at that number during brain surgery. He’s just such a genius.

  • Tanakapalooza Floozy

    Fred Granpda Lewis is a sleeper? I’d say so!